“The Hatch to the Second Floor” Horror by Brian P. Kalfus

"The Hatch to the Second Floor" Horror by Brian P. Kalfus

I stared at the hatch, which loomed ten feet above me. The hatch, or plank, as Mom and Dad called it, covered a rectangular hole in the center of the laundry room ceiling. My parents told my sister and me there was nothing to see above the plank and we should never try to remove it. That would have been impossible, anyway. At eight-years-old, I stood only three feet ten inches, and at six, my sister Susan stood an inch shorter. Climbing atop the washer and dryer to my left would do no good—those machines were nowhere near the hole. And the ladder from our garage wouldn’t get me up there, either. I would have had to lean it against the wall, at least ten feet from the hatch. But if someone were capable of reaching the ceiling, they would likely be able to push the hatch open and lift themselves up.

There had to have been something to see above the plank, because whenever I played in the backyard and looked up, I could tell there was a whole other floor, with two large windows. But I couldn’t see inside because all the blinds were closed. And even if I could have somehow reached the roof, the windows would have certainly been locked, and there was no chimney. Other than through the plank, there was no way to get to the second floor from inside. No staircase.

Dad said he and Mom bought our house two years before I was born. They didn’t have much money, so were lucky to get such a big place. Dad began teaching English at the local high school, and it wasn’t too long before Mom was pregnant with me. She was an amateur photographer at the time, and I remembered her developing film in the laundry room. Dad forced Mom to give that up after Susan was born. He said she was neglecting her motherly duties. So Mom abandoned her hobby, and used this first-floor room primarily for laundry. The room had a sink and a toilet, so it subbed as a second bathroom whenever someone was hogging the one in the hall.

I washed my hands for Sunday dinner and turned out the light. I planned to mention the hatch while we ate our spaghetti meal, but Mom and Dad bickered the whole time. They seemed to be doing that a lot lately.

I hoped sometime my parents would take me to the second floor. They trusted me and usually let me do grown-up stuff, like watch R-rated videos. Mom said I was “precocious.” Probably because I got straight A’s and was the only boy in the top-level reading group. Mrs. Hagan, my teacher, said I read and wrote way beyond the fourth-grade level. Neil, the class bully, labeled me “teacher’s pet.”

After dinner, Susan and I biked down to Cole Court. We met Neil and the rest of the kids in the grassy center of the cul-de-sac, which was where we all gathered to play. Chilly fall weather had not yet kicked in, as it was only mid-September, and the sun had not yet gone down. Neil got right to the point.

“Chuck, when can we open the hatch?” Neil always scared me when he talked. He spoke louder than he should and stood a foot taller. But I put up with him because all my friends lived on Cole Court, and liked to play close to home.

“There’s no way to get up there, Neil,” I told him. “None of us are tall enough.” I hoped logic would slow him down.

“Maybe we can drag a table in there.” Neil glanced at the other kids, who nodded.

I wished Susan hadn’t blabbed about the hatch to everybody last week. Mom said it was good that she was starting to open up. But lately, she didn’t know when to keep her mouth shut.

“We might be able to on Saturday,” I said. “If we can distract Maureen.” Maureen was one of our babysitters. Sometimes she invited her boyfriend over. We never told Mom and Dad because Maureen let us stay up late. Grandma never had.

“Good,” said Neil. “We’ll all meet here after supper.” He then closed the subject, and we played Ghost in the Graveyard until dark.

“I can’t wait for Saturday,” said Susan when we got home, clasping her hands together.

“I don’t know how we can do it, Susan. Mom said the movie might be too bloody for her. You know how she’s always changing her mind.” I sure hoped she would. Dad liked to take Mom to those movies, but sometimes she would back out at the last minute.

When Saturday rolled around, Mom made an announcement at breakfast.

“When Dad and I go out tonight, Jimmy Davis will come over. Maureen can’t make it.”

I got nervous. “Who’s Jimmy Davis?”

“He’s Mr. and Mrs. Davis’s son,” said Mom. “Mrs. Davis said he’s looking to earn some extra money.” Mom and Dad have had the Davises over umpteen times since they moved from Brazil. They spoke fluent English and lived in a rented house on Cole Court. I never met Jimmy though.

“Why can’t Grandma stay with us instead?” I asked. If Grandma babysat, then I’d have the perfect excuse to call off Neil’s plan.

“Grandma’s visiting Uncle Dan and Aunt Karen.”

I’d have to tell Neil about the new babysitter, and that we’d have to wait until Maureen came back. With her, we could have snuck around while she and her boyfriend were making out, but Jimmy would probably watch us closer.

After breakfast, I rode over to Neil’s house.

“I’ve seen Jimmy Davis a couple times,” he said. “He’s that nerdy guy who drives a Ford Pinto down our street.”

“We’ll have to open the hatch some other time,” I said. “When Maureen’s there.”

“No way,” he said. “We’ll be over tonight.”

“Forget it, Neil. We’ll get in trouble.” We argued for a while. There was no way to talk him out of it, so I just went home. Jimmy would have to chase the kids away when they got here.

Mom didn’t change her mind about the movie, and she and Dad left at 6:30. Jimmy was tall and scrawny, with lots of pimples. He wore glasses, too, and was very polite. While we watched TV, I asked him how old he was. He said he was sixteen and attended the local high school, but Dad wasn’t any of his teachers. Just after seven, I heard commotion from our driveway. Susan and I exchanged nervous glances. Jimmy opened the front door. I pretended to watch TV. He closed the door.

“There were some kids in the driveway, but they ran away.” He looked at Susan and me. “You know who they could be?” We shrugged.

I suspected what Neil and the kids were going to do next, so I excused myself and left to peek out the back door window. The group was gathered on the patio. Carefully, I opened the door.

“Guys, get out of here,” I whispered. “We can’t do it tonight.”

Neil barged in anyway. I closed and locked the door before anyone else could enter.

“Where’s the laundry room?” he said.

“Get out, Neil.” The laundry room was nearby, but I still didn’t want him to see it. He pushed me out of the way, found it, and went in. I followed.

Neil stared at the ceiling.

“There’s no way to get up there,” I said.

He looked around. “Help me push the dryer over.”

Neil was not very bright. Even if the two of us could have moved the dryer, it would have squeaked on the tiled floor. I stayed put while he stepped over to it and tried to pull it with his hands. It moved a few inches to the right and let out a loud squeak. The living room TV went silent. I heard someone approaching. Neil climbed over the dryer and hid behind it. Jimmy came in.

“What was that noise?” he said.

I couldn’t think up a good answer. “I accidentally slammed the toilet lid.” Then, stupidly, I looked up at the hatch. Jimmy followed my glance.

“What’s that?” he said.

“That’s the way to the attic,” I told him. Jimmy didn’t say anything. He just stared intensely at the ceiling for a few seconds.

“Let’s get on back to the living room,” he said. “Your mom tells me you and Susan like to play Life.”

Jimmy turned out the light and we left. I hoped Neil was too scared to do anything but leave. I didn’t have a chance to check until just before nine o’clock bedtime. He was gone and there were no kids outside.

The next morning Mom declared that Jimmy was now our permanent babysitter. He would return Friday night, when she and Dad went to a party. On Monday morning at school, I told the kids Maureen wasn’t coming back. Neil scowled at me worse than ever.

“How could you be so dumb to tell Jimmy about the hatch?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “Now when we go over Friday, he’ll know what we’re trying to do.”

“You’re not coming over,” I said. “No way. Not after what happened on Saturday.”

“We’ll be there,” said Neil. “I’m not gonna let a wimp like Jimmy stop us.”

That night in bed I thought about what to do. In order to stop Neil, I had to approach the situation another way. The next morning at breakfast I startled Dad with a question.

“Did you and Mom meet the prior owners of our house before you bought it?”

Dad and Mom looked at each other. They both frowned.

“No, Chuck,” said Dad. “We bought it through a real estate broker. The prior owners had already moved out. And anyway, why would you ask that?”

I ignored his question and said, “Did this house ever have a staircase? To get to the second floor?”

“No,” said Mom. “There wasn’t a staircase when we bought this house.” Mom and Dad looked worried.

“Are you sure?”

“Positive,” said Mom. “We asked the broker, and she said it was removed soon after the house was built in 1980.”

“No, no, Barb,” said Dad, glaring at Mom. “It was built in ’78. We bought the house in 1980.”

“Oh yeah,” she said. “You’re right, Mike. It was 1978.”

I wasn’t going to let my parents off the hook.

“Why would they build a staircase and then remove it?” I asked.

“We’ll talk about it later,” said Dad. “You two will be late for school.”

At supper that evening I brought up the subject again, but Mom and Dad wouldn’t talk any more about it. After dessert, I told Mom and Dad I needed to check out a book at the library. I rode my bike there, and found Mrs. Newell. She was my favorite librarian because she knew how smart I was and treated me like an adult.

“Do you know how I can find out when a particular house in town was built?” I didn’t think my question would startle her. I was always doing research for school projects.

“That’s funny,” said Mrs. Newell. “There was a young man here yesterday asking the same thing.”

“Was it a kid named Neil Restin? He’s in my class.” Neil wasn’t one to be in a library, but what other kid could it have been?

“No, it was an older boy. High school age. I think his name was Jimmy Davis. He checked out three books.”

I thanked Mrs. Newell and declined any more of her help. I checked out a book from the fiction section and went home.

The next day after school, I rode over to Cole Court and searched for a parked Ford Pinto. I avoided Neil, who was shooting baskets in his driveway. After riding up and down the street, I couldn’t find Jimmy’s car, so I let Neil see me. I was tempted to fill him in on what I was doing, but instead joined him in basketball and let him tease me for double dribbling. Before I left, Neil brought up Friday night.

“What time are your mom and dad going out?”


“I’m spending the night at Justin’s,” said Neil. “We’ll be over at seven.”

“And then what?” I didn’t see how Friday night would be any different than what happened Saturday.

“You’re going to get Susan to distract Jimmy.”

“How am I going to do that?” I had watched enough TV to know what to try, but didn’t think it had any chance of working.

“You’ll think of something.”

In bed that night, I worried about Friday. But I had to admit that I was too curious to not try something. Justin was a lot smarter than Neil, and I hoped together we could come up with a plan to reach the hatch once and for all. The next morning on the playground, Justin devised a scheme that might work. I filled Susan in on it that night.

After Mom and Dad left for the party Friday evening, Susan asked Jimmy if we could watch Batman on video. I cooked some microwave popcorn, and then we started the movie. Shortly before seven, Susan screamed and covered her face.

“What’s the matter, Susan?” Jimmy got up from the recliner and put his arms around her.

“That joker scares me,” she said.

Jimmy turned off the movie. “Yeah, clown faces scared me too when I was your age.”

“Jimmy, would you read me a story?” Susan hugged Jimmy tight. “Please?”

“Sure. Which one?”

“I’ll find one in my room,” said Susan. “Would you come with me? I’m scared.”

“Okay,” said Jimmy, holding Susan’s hand. “You coming, Chuck?”

“No, you two go ahead,” I said. “I want to watch the movie. The Joker doesn’t scare me.”

While Jimmy read to Susan in her room, I sat on the couch and waited. I had the volume turned low and peeked out the front window every few minutes. Neil and Justin didn’t show up. After Susan went to sleep, Jimmy and I watched the movie to the end, and then I went to bed. As I fell asleep, I wondered why my friends didn’t come by. They must have got into the Playboy stash Justin’s father hid in the closet. Once when his parents were out, Justin and I spent hours gawking at the pictures.

I woke up a little later to a noise outside. I looked out the window to see if Mom and Dad had come home. I saw Jimmy standing by the back of his car. At his side stood a stepladder. He hoisted the ladder over his shoulders and headed inside. I stepped away from the window. After waiting ten minutes, I slunk toward the laundry room. The light was on and the door ajar. I peeked from behind it. The ladder stood underneath the hatch. Clumps of black filth polluted the floor, and dust particles saturated the air. I stepped inside and looked up. The hatch was open. I couldn’t see anything beyond, but I heard shuffling. Slowly but firmly, I climbed the ladder. Dust stuck to my pajamas. As I got closer to the ceiling, I realized that the only way to enter the opening was to stand on the top step. My legs weakened with fear, like they did when climbing rope in gym class. Neil always made it to the top, but I never did. The ladder felt sturdier than rope, so I ascended high enough to stick my head above the opening. I saw a faint light flickering around the room. Then I lost my breath. The dusty air had clogged my lungs. I coughed and wheezed. Tears filled my eyes, as the beam of light pointed to my face. I descended the ladder as fast as I could. I reached the floor, ran to my room, and ducked underneath the covers, trying to stifle my cough. After about ten minutes, I was breathing smoothly. I expected Jimmy to come in, but he didn’t. I lay in bed until my parents came home. After they went to sleep, I changed out of my dirty pajamas and hand-swept the dust out of my bed. I went to the kitchen for a glass of water and examined the laundry room. It was clean and the hatch was closed.

The next morning before breakfast I biked to Cole Court and found Jimmy’s Pinto parked in a driveway. I pedaled to the Davis’s stoop and set my bike down. Just as I was about to ring the doorbell, I chickened out. It was so early I figured the parents would be mad. Especially if I woke them up. I walked my bike to Jimmy’s car and looked in the back. The ladder wasn’t there. I glanced into the passenger window and noticed two photographs on the seat. The cardboard frames were frayed and brown. One of the pictures was a portrait of a young woman. The other photo was turned face down with handwriting on the back. I cupped my hands to the window, trying to read the note. It was Mom’s handwriting. I was sure of that. She had written, “Deborah Lisa, August 14,1979.” I tried to open the door, but it was locked. I stepped over to the driver’s side and pulled the handle. The door opened. I looked around to see if anyone was watching, then sat down in the driver’s seat. I grabbed the face-down photo and turned it over. It was a baby. I turned the other picture over. It read “Maria Mendoza, age 16.” I flipped it back and examined the face closely. It resembled a young Mrs. Davis. Was the baby hers? And why would Mom have taken a picture of it? Did Jimmy find the photos last night? I left them as I found them, got out of the car, and rode home.

At breakfast, Dad said he and Mom were going out again that night.

“Is Jimmy coming over?” I asked.

“No,” said Mom.

“Why not?”

 “Because he let you and Susan watch Batman after I specifically told him not to. And Susan got scared. So Grandma will babysit.”

My sister and I exchanged discouraged glances. Our plan had backfired. I didn’t buy Mom’s reasoning. She couldn’t have known beforehand we planned to watch Batman. I’d have to break it to Neil that Jimmy was fired, and there was no possible way to find out what my parents were hiding on the second floor.

Before leaving with Dad for the evening, Mom rented The Land Before Time. I started the video and cozied up with Susan and Grandma on the couch. Grandma seemed bored and began dozing off about fifteen minutes into the movie. After it got dark, I heard a thump coming from the backyard. Neil and the kids must have returned. I looked over at Grandma, who was almost asleep. I turned to Susan and pressed my index finger to my lips, then snuck to the back door. No one was on the patio. I opened the door and stepped out. In the darkness, I saw the silhouette of a long ladder extending to a second-floor window. Someone was climbing the ladder. I returned inside, switched on the patio light, and went back outside. I found Jimmy scowling at me from the top of the ladder.

“Turn off that light!” he said, fanning his arm down.

I did as I was told and returned, stopping at the ladder’s base.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’ll tell you later,” said Jimmy. “Now get back inside.”

“No,” I said. “I’m coming up.”

He sighed but didn’t say anything as I climbed the ladder. Jimmy opened the window and slid inside. When I got to the top, he reached out and pulled me in. Then he closed the window and shut the blinds. The air was so musty we both coughed. Jimmy flipped on a flashlight. I stared at him.

“What are you doing up here?” I whispered. “We could get in a lot of trouble.”

“I have to find something out,” said Jimmy. “Just like you.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, coughing again. Jimmy put his hand over my mouth.

“I saw you last night,” he said. “If you had stayed in bed, I could have found out what your parents have been hiding.”

I jerked my mouth away. “What could they possibly be hiding, other than Mom’s old pictures?”

Jimmy turned away from the window and shone the flashlight in front of him. “I’m going to find out. You can help me if you keep your mouth shut.”

“I will.”

Jimmy stepped forward. I followed him. We entered a wide hallway. The dim light exposed a few quarter-sized spiders on the walls. There must have been plenty more. Their webs enveloped our clothes. Jimmy’s flashlight revealed an open bathroom door to our right. I took one step inside, but Jimmy pulled me back. We walked to the end of the hallway into a large room. He aimed the flashlight at an old-fashioned box TV, sitting on the dust-covered carpet. Cobwebs streamed from the top of the TV to the floor like ropes holding up a tent. Dust coated the wooden-framed screen. The dial was one of those rotary ones, the kind that clicked when you turned it, and the label beneath read “Zenith.” Jimmy pointed the light at a grimy loveseat and then a coffee table, where a box sat. Sticking out were photographs framed in cheap white cardboard—the kind Mom had used for her pictures.

I scrounged through the contents but couldn’t see who was in the photos. “You found pictures of your mother and her baby in here, didn’t you? The ones I saw in your car.”

“That’s not my mother,” said Jimmy. “It’s my sister. And the baby was her daughter, and your half-sister.”

I looked at Jimmy strangely. Before I could say anything, he stepped away, leaving me in the dark. I heard him flip a light switch, but blackness remained. If Mrs. Davis was Jimmy’s sister, why did Mom and Dad say Jimmy was her son?

“Jimmy,” I said. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Shut up.” He pointed the flashlight at a doorway and stepped through it. I scurried after him but slammed my foot into something heavy on the floor. It didn’t move. I was glad I wore tennis shoes.

Jimmy hurried over. “Shh! They probably heard that.”

“I doubt it,” I said. “Grandma can’t hear too well.”

He pointed the light at my feet, revealing a dismantled wooden staircase, which lay on its side. The steps were cracked and rotten, partially covering some makeshift floorboards. Next to the staircase lay a long saw, several splintery planks, and a rusty toolbox. I sensed we were standing over the laundry room.

“Mom and Dad said the prior owners removed the stairs.”

“No,” said Jimmy. “Your mom and dad removed the stairs. There were no prior owners.”

“What?” I didn’t believe him at first, but then after thinking about it for a moment, what he told me suddenly made sense.

“I’ll tell you about it later,” he said. “Right now, I’ve got to find the attic. Come on.”

He grabbed my arm and pulled me into another room. There was a bed to the right and a closet to the left. Jimmy slid open the closet door, revealing an old, wooden dresser. He pointed the light upward at a recessed plank in the ceiling.

“This is the real attic,” he said, climbing onto the dresser and pushing the plank up and to the side. He pulled himself in and I lifted myself onto the dresser. I heard a clunk.

“Ow!” yelled Jimmy, as the flashlight fell into my lap. I heard stumbling and then felt a vibrating thud next to me. I pointed the flashlight toward the vibration. Jimmy had his feet planted on the dresser as he sat in the attic with his long legs hanging over the opening. I couldn’t see his face but heard him whimpering.

“You okay?” I asked.

He didn’t answer. His legs disappeared. I jammed the flashlight into my waistband and pulled myself into the darkness above. I inhaled more dust and wheezed as tears rolled down my cheeks. I yanked out the flashlight and waved it around. The ceiling slanted upward about four feet, until it met the other side of the roof. Most everything else I saw was insulation. I found Jimmy about thirty feet away, crouching. I began to crawl toward him. My hands and knees pressed against wood and insulation, which felt like concrete and scratchy cushions. Cobwebs glued themselves to my hair. Then my fingers ran over a warm liquid. I pointed the flashlight at them and saw blood. I reached Jimmy and aimed the light at his face. Blood was trickling from his forehead down to his nose. He snatched the flashlight from me.

“I feel something,” he said, and then pointed the light at what looked like a black tarp. I touched it and it felt more like a trash bag. Jimmy rubbed his hand all around it. He found an opening and pulled the bag down. A weird smell overcame me, difficult to describe. Sort of like when Mom emptied the mousetraps in the laundry room. With hands shaking, Jimmy aimed the flashlight at the bag’s contents. I caught sight of a skull. Jimmy gasped and recoiled. I took the flashlight, located the skull, and pointed the beam below it. I observed clothing—a T-shirt, old jeans, tube socks, and sneakers. Sticking out of the shirtsleeves were arm and hand bones. The light reflected something metal. It was a ring, with a jewel attached. I slid it off the bony finger, put it in my pocket, and pulled the trash bag back over the body. Then I heard a pounding coming from the hatch. Startled, I dropped the flashlight. It slammed against wood and the light went out. I frantically felt around for it but hit Jimmy’s arm instead. I heard more pounding. Then a pause, and then more.

“Where’s the flashlight?” said Jimmy.

“I don’t know.” I fumbled around some more. All I took hold of were dust clumps and insulation. More pounding.

“Someone’s trying to nail the attic shut,” said Jimmy.

After what seemed like forever, he found the flashlight. I heard him slap it and it turned on. He pointed it toward the noise. Long nails protruded from the attic’s entrance. There was more pounding and a new nail arose. Jimmy scrambled over. I followed. A thick board blocked the opening. We were trapped. With a corpse.

Jimmy found the plank that originally covered the entrance and slammed it over the nails. It split in two. He stomped the new board with his heel, but it didn’t budge. He crouched on top of it, then lifted me over the nails and pulled me next to him. I jumped up and down, but the board wouldn’t give.

“Who’s down there?” shouted Jimmy. “Let us out!”

A familiar voice sounded from below. “Jimmy, you can quit playing Sherlock Holmes. And who the hell is up there with you?”

“Carlos, you bastard!” Jimmy walloped the board with his fist.

“I’m taking the baby,” said the voice. I recognized it as Mr. Davis.

“Let us out, Carlos!” said Jimmy. “I found Dad’s body.”

That was Jimmy’s dad’s body? I thought Mr. Davis was Jimmy’s dad.

“Congratulations,” said Carlos. “And I found the dead baby.”

What dead baby?

Jimmy’s voice calmed. “Dad killed her…Didn’t he?”

“Who do you think?” said Carlos. “You think he came all the way here to make amends with Mike? After what he did to Maria?”

“You should have told me that a long time ago!”

“I didn’t trust you, brother,” said Carlos. “I’m outta here!”

“Don’t you leave us up here, asshole!” Jimmy beat the board with both fists. I did the same but quit. It hurt too much.

After a few seconds, Jimmy stopped, and we listened. There was silence. He climbed off the board and stretched out on some insulation. I could smell his sweaty body.

“Who was that?” I asked.

“My brother,” said Jimmy.

“Mr. Davis is your brother? I thought he was your father.”

“No,” said Jimmy. “The body over there was my father.” Then, in a hurried tone, he said, “We’ve got to get out of here. Your parents are in danger.”

That was more than I could take. “What do you mean? What the hell did they do to your brother?” Jimmy didn’t answer. “Susan would have heard us by now. And Grandma—she would have called the police.”

Jimmy was silent.

“Well, wouldn’t she?”

“Sure,” he said. But I wasn’t convinced.

I started to hyperventilate. I covered my mouth. Jimmy pointed the flashlight at me. He sat up and put his hand on my shoulder.

“Your mom and dad will be home soon,” he said. “They’ll get us out.”

I started to cry. Then I smelled smoke.

“Oh shit,” said Jimmy. He coughed as fumes entered the attic. The smoke intensified. The air was hot.

“Oh my God,” I said. “The house is on fire!” Then dizziness overcame me. I passed out. The next thing I knew I was lying flat on the board with Jimmy on top of me. We had fallen out of the attic onto the closet dresser. A sharp pain pierced my calf. I reached down and felt a sharp nail poking through my jeans.

“Come on,” said Jimmy, as he jumped off the dresser. He picked me up and set me down on the floor. As I tried to stand, my leg gave way. I started to fall. Jimmy yanked my arm and held me up. Neither of us had the flashlight, so he pulled me along in the dark, and then bumped into the wall. He found the doorway. The smoke was so thick that I felt like I was about to pass out again. Jimmy pulled me down to the floor. I grabbed his shirttail. We crawled until we reached the dilapidated staircase, where the temperature got super-hot.

Jimmy backed into me. “Carlos set fire to all the wood!” He grabbed my collar and we squirmed away from the heat.

Then I heard a bunch of squeaking. The sound reminded me of Harvey, a guinea pig I once had, but these squeaks were more strident. I groped around the floor. My fingers touched fur. Then whiskers. Then sharp teeth and I felt pain. I pulled my hand back.

“Rats, Jimmy! Lots of rats!”

Jimmy groaned. “Come on, Chuck. This way.”

He pulled me back toward the bedroom and then toward the hallway. I could see pale light shimmering at the end of it. We followed the gleam and reached the window. The blinds were already open. Jimmy pushed up the window and stuck his head out.

“Shit!” said Jimmy.


“The ladder’s gone!”

The heat from the center of the room spread toward us. Rats started to pile onto one another below the window. A few reached the sill and leaped out.

I stood up and looked out and down. The ladder lay on the lawn.

“Chuck, I’m going to have to jump. Then I’ll put the ladder back up.”

“You can’t,” I said. “You’ll break your legs.”

“Haven’t got a choice, Chuck.”

“Maybe if we toss the rats out, they’ll cushion the fall.”

“Gross,” said Jimmy. He climbed onto the sill, crouched, and got ready to jump.

Then I heard a grunt from below. The ladder slammed against the house. Jimmy jumped back inside, and we looked out the window. I saw a child on the lawn.

The child shouted, “Climb down before the whole house blows up!” I recognized the voice.


He pointed his finger up at me. “The flames are right behind you!”

 Jimmy hoisted me over his shoulder and stepped out onto the ladder.

“Hold on tight!” He slowly descended the ladder. I grabbed the back of his shirt. Jimmy stumbled and I felt as though I was flying. Then the ladder rammed back against the house. Jimmy took a firm hold of my legs and I shrieked as his hand pressed against my wound. He continued descending. We reached the ground and stumbled to the edge of the backyard.

“You guys okay?” said Justin. “I saw the smoke from my house and called 911.”

Flames engulfed the house from bottom to top. I tried to focus my mind. I pictured my toys and books burning. Then my mind became clear.

“Susan! Where is she?”

“I don’t know,” said Justin.

 I limped as fast as I could around the house. I found a body sprawled on the stoop. It was Grandma. Her head was soaking in a pool of blood. The front door was open. I started to enter but Jimmy grabbed my arm.

“No, Chuck. Don’t.”

I tried to pull away from him. “I got to get Susan!”

 Jimmy picked me up and carried me all the way to the sidewalk. He set me down. A sonic boom shook the earth as an enormous plume shot out the front door. Windows shattered. The entire front of the house tumbled down. Sirens blared nearby. I covered my ears and screamed. My baby sister was burned alive! I turned to Jimmy and started punching him. He grabbed my wrists and pulled me to the curb, where his car was parked. He opened the driver’s side door, picked me up, and plopped me in the passenger seat. He started the ignition. I opened the passenger door as Jimmy revved forward, forcing me to shut it. As we sped off, I saw a little girl running down the sidewalk.

“Susan!” I yelled. Jimmy slammed on the brakes and opened the door. He picked up my sister and put her beside me. We hugged. I didn’t see any blood or bruises on her, just tears and sweat. Jimmy floored the accelerator. We passed two fire engines.

“Where are we going?” I asked. Jimmy didn’t answer, but he motored toward Cole Court.

We made it there in less than a minute. I saw Neil in our play area. He ran toward us waving his hands back and forth over his head. Jimmy swerved around him and sped to his house. He slammed on the brakes. We screeched to a halt along the curb. I saw Carlos standing on the front lawn with his hands in the air. Maria pointed a gun at him. She held a blanketed bundle in her arm.

“Stay here,” said Jimmy. He got out and slammed the door. Susan and I ducked down in our seat. I rolled down the window halfway.

“Carlos tried to kill me!” Jimmy’s voice was loud and clear. I expected to hear a gunshot.

I whispered, “Get ready to run, Susan.” I clutched the door handle.

“We couldn’t let you go to the police, Jimmy,” said Carlos. His voice sounded calm for a man who was at gunpoint.

“But that didn’t mean I wanted you to kill him!” yelled Maria. “That wasn’t part of the plan.”

“Jimmy should have stayed out of it. Now put the gun down, Maria.” I heard footsteps and then a gunshot. Susan screamed. I hugged her tight.

“Let’s go, Jimmy,” said Maria. “Mike is already at the airport.” Was she talking about Dad? She had to be. She couldn’t have meant anyone else.

“I’m not going with you,” said Jimmy. “Not a chance. I don’t trust you. Mike killed Dad, and now you want to take him home with us.”

I didn’t understand any of the conversation, except to realize I had now lost trust in everyone.

“Jimmy, we don’t have much time! Mike is a great man and I love him. I’ll explain later.”

“I don’t know how you can love a man who raped you.”

Nothing more was spoken. I just heard a car driving away. I lifted my head and peeked out the window. Jimmy was standing on the lawn, staring at a dead Carlos. Then he looked at me and approached the car. He got in and Susan and I sat up. He drove back to our house. Firemen were hosing down the inferno as bystanders watched, including Justin and Neil. Police cars were parked along the curb, their lights flashing. I saw Mom. Susan got out and ran to her. I stumbled behind. Mom gasped as she reached out and held us.

Susan, Mom, and I spent the night in the hospital. My leg required twelve stitches, and I had to endure a tetanus shot. Miraculously, the rat bite did not break the skin. Susan had no physical injuries. Mom had to leave our hospital room the next morning to speak with the police. I slept until early afternoon when the nurse taught me how to walk on crutches. The doctor discharged me soon after. The nurse pushed my wheelchair all the way to the parking lot, where Uncle Dan and Aunt Karen were waiting for us. We spent the next week at their country bungalow thirty miles away, only leaving once for Grandma’s funeral. Mom, Susan, and I had to share a bedroom, where I slept on a mattress between their beds. I didn’t ask any questions about what happened, until Jimmy came over. He and Mom sat alone in the living room, and I joined them. I didn’t need the crutches anymore.

Mom startled me by announcing, “Jimmy’s going to be living with us until he graduates.”

I thought about that for a moment. “He’s going to live here? It’s crowded enough already.”

“We’ll find an apartment,” said Mom. “Or rebuild. It won’t be easy, but we’ll manage.”

“Is Dad coming back?”

“No, Chuck.”

“Where is he?” I knew the answer but wanted Mom to say it.

“He’s in Brazil, with Maria.”

“Why would he go there, Mom?”

Mom didn’t answer, so Jimmy broke in. “Your dad is in love with Maria. She had his baby in 1979, when she was an exchange student in one of his classes.”

I turned to Mom. “You mean he had an affair?” She nodded.

Jimmy continued. “But when my dad found out, he came all the way from Brazil and drowned the baby. In the upstairs bathroom. Then your dad killed him. I didn’t find that out for sure until we found his body in your attic. Carlos and Maria told me they were moving here to take the baby back to Brazil for a proper burial. But I didn’t know Carlos was also out for revenge.”

I asked Mom, “But why didn’t the police find out about the dead baby?”

“We decided not to tell anyone. If the police found out, Dad would have gone to jail for having sex with an underage girl. And I wouldn’t have been able to support you and Susan.”

“But why would you want to stay with Dad after what he did?”

“Because I forgave him. And he promised never to see Maria again. She went back to Brazil, and we carried on. But…” Mom paused.

“But what?”

“Dad was never really in love with me. And when Maria moved back here, I found out Dad’s love for her had never really gone away.”

“But I swear, Barb,” said Jimmy. “That was not her plan. She just wanted to find the baby and go back.”

“Maybe,” said Mom. “I was terrified when she moved back here. I thought everything would break wide open. I tried to make her happy by letting you babysit. But then I found out that she and Mike were seeing each other again.”

“And Carlos would have killed Mike if he had gotten the chance,” said Jimmy. “I’m glad Maria killed him. And with the gun he just bought.” He looked at me and then back at Mom. “I’m sorry, Barb. Chuck shouldn’t be hearing this.”

“It’s okay,” I said. We all remained silent for a minute, and then I asked, “I take it your name’s not really Jimmy Davis?”

“It’s Jimmy Mendoza.”

“Mom, will we ever see Dad again?” I was already starting to hate him, and I’ll never trust grownups again.

“Maybe some time,” said Mom. She didn’t look as if that was important.

“But how are we going to live without him?” I was worried because Mom never had a job and didn’t have a college degree.

“I’ll find work somewhere,” said Mom.

“Me too,” added Jimmy.

“But it’ll be tight for a while,” said Mom.

Then I remembered the ring from the attic. “Just a minute,” I said. I retrieved it from the bedroom and showed it to Mom. “Can we sell this? Maybe it’s worth something.”

“Let me see that,” said Jimmy. He studied it. “This is my dad’s wedding ring. He and my mother each had one like this. Where did you find it?”

“On your dad’s finger.”

“I can’t believe it was up there this whole time.” Jimmy looked incredulously at Mom. “Why didn’t you take it off when you hid the body?”

“I didn’t see it, and had to act fast,” said Mom. “After Mike clubbed your father to death, we left the baby in the bathtub and put your father in the attic.”

“Well, this ring is worth a fortune!” said Jimmy. “When my mother died, Carlos sold hers and bought our house in Brazil with the money.”

“We can’t sell it,” said Mom. “It’s an heirloom.”

“Like hell it is!” Jimmy stood up, excited. “It would only be fitting to sell it after what my family did to yours!” He rushed from the house and drove away. He came back the next day driving a Mercedes, then sped off again with Mom. The next weekend, the four of us drove to our new two-story house in the Youngbriar neighborhood, the rich part of town. And far away from Neil Restin. We had access to a golf course and a swimming pool. And our new home had four bedrooms.

“You and your sister can have your pick,” said Mom.

Susan and I inspected the two on the first floor, and then climbed the staircase to check out the others. Mom and Jimmy followed. In the hallway, I noticed a hatch in the ceiling. Jimmy saw me staring at it.

“This is the kind of attic where you pull a rope and stairs come down to the floor. You two can go up there anytime.”

“I think we’ll take the bedrooms downstairs.” I looked at Susan and she nodded. “If Dad ever comes to visit, he and Maria can sleep in the attic.”

Brian P. Kalfus has a lifelong love of reading. He enjoys literature for the emotional power of a perfectly written scene. After working many office jobs, Brian rekindled his love of stories by writing his own. His work has been published in the online magazine Founder’s Favourites. Brian resides in Missouri.

If you would like to be part of The Chamber Magazine family, follow this link to the submissions guidelines. If you like more mainstream fiction and poetry with a rural setting and addressing rural themes, you may also want to check out Rural Fiction Magazine

One thought on ““The Hatch to the Second Floor” Horror by Brian P. Kalfus

  1. Pingback: – The Chamber Magazine

Leave a Reply